In preparing for this Sunday’s sermon, I’ve been reading up on dominion theology. In a new book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, Michelle Goldberg traces the theological roots of Christian nationalism back to dominion theology, and from thence back to Christian Reconstructionism.
Christian Reconstructionism, according to Goldberg, is a “theocratic sect… which advocates replacing American civil law with Old Testament biblical law.” This theocratic sect is based on a theological position that is, in essence, the darkest hue of American Calvinism:
Most Christian Reconstructionist theology — a very strict Calvinism that mandates the death penalty for a long list of moral crimes, including homosexuality and apostasy — has little appeal to outsiders and is controversial even among Christian conservatives. But dominionism, its political theory, has been hugely influential in the broader evangelical movement…. [p. 13]
In other words, dominionism grew out of Christian Reconstructionism. Goldberg later calls dominionism a theology, rather than a political theory, but she’s not contradicting herself: dominionism is a theology with definite political implications. Goldberg cites a book by Francis Schaeffer called A Christian Manifesto:
A Christian Manifesto, published in 1981, described modern history as a contest between the Christian worldview and the materialist one, saying, “These two world views stand in complete antithesis to each other in content and also in their natural results — including sociological and government results, and specifically including law.” [p. 38]
What does “dominion” mean? It’s a familiar Biblical word from the story of Genesis, where God tells Adam and Eve that they have “dominion” over everything else. But dominionist theology means something more than that, and Goldberg quotes from a book titled The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action by Christian nationalist George Grant:
It is dominion we are after. World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel…. Thus Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land — of men [sic], families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ. [quoted in Goldberg, p. 41]
Two interesting points from my own religious liberal perspective:
First, theology can have political implications, and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise. Within religious liberalism, feminist theology certainly has had dramatic political implications; and my own religious community of Unitarian Universalism has an explicit commitment to democratic principles. Curiously, many Unitarian Universalists would say that their religion is merely a private matter. It’s time for us to get over that misconception.
Second, with its Calvinist overtones, dominionist theology represents a kind of theology that my religious tradition, Unitarian Universalism, knows how to tackle. After all, historically both Unitarianism and Universalism grew out of serious and effective theological critiques of American Calvinism. We thought the battle against that kind of Calvinism had been won; I think it’s time for us to face up to the fact that we’re going to have to fight that battle all over again.
This Sunday, I’ll be exchanging pulpits with Ellen Spero of the Chelmsford, Mass., Unitarian Universalist church. If you’re in New Bedford this weekend, come hear Ellen preach — she’s one of my favorite Unitarian Universalist preachers.